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The unemployment rate the year you turned 16

  • 1979

    - Annual unemployment rate: 5.8%

    Although the final year of the decade was nearly three percentage points lower than the 1975 high, there were signs of trouble ahead. Heavy layoffs in the auto and steel industries, rising unemployment in New York City, and slowed growth in the labor market were indicators of the recession to come. The unemployment rate among teenagers dropped to 14.3%.

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  • 1980

    - Annual unemployment rate: 7.1%

    The Fed’s efforts to fight stagflation at the end of the ‘70s led to the recession of 1980 and snowballing unemployment. The layoffs in the auto and steel industries were finally counted in the overall unemployment statistics. The economy and employment showed temporary signs of improvement at the end of 1980, though a much deeper recession was coming.

  • 1981

    - Annual unemployment rate: 7.6%

    President Ronald Reagan walked into the deepest recession since the Great Depression when he assumed the presidency in 1981. High interest rates led to steep cuts in manufacturing and construction projects, which would take their toll on the unemployment rate beginning at the end of the year. Reagan’s Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 cut tax rates for all earners.

  • 1982

    - Annual unemployment rate: 9.7%

    Unemployment rose by over 25% from 1981, with goods producers accounting for nearly 90% of all job losses. In December of 1982, unemployment reached its peak of the 1981–82 recession at 10.8%. Fed chairman Paul Volcker ignored pressure from Congress to loosen monetary policy, resulting in a 5% decline in inflation and steadying of the unemployment rate toward the end of the year.

    [Pictured: Max R. Pacheco, one of the workers who had enough seniority to keep his job after layoffs at Climax mine, 1982.]

  • 1983

    - Annual unemployment rate: 9.6%

    The unemployment rate would reach its peak in the early part of 1983, a mark that wouldn’t be seen again until the Great Recession 26 years later. Increased consumer spending led overall employment to rise by 3.9 million people in 1983, with goods producers accounting for a third of the growth. Tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union led President Reagan to increase military spending as the Cold War was heating up, creating jobs in the process.

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  • 1984

    - Annual unemployment rate: 7.5%

    A drop of 2.1% over the 1983 rate signaled that the recessions of the early ‘80s were in the past. By December, the country had recovered 3.5 million jobs from the low point of the downturn. Teen employment didn’t see the same gains though, reaching 18.4% overall by the end of the year, but roughly 40% for Black teens.

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  • 1985

    - Annual unemployment rate: 7.2%

    Unemployment continued to improve in 1985, with women procuring 1.4 of the 2 million jobs gained for the year. By the end of 1985, the country had experienced the best three-year period for job recovery since World War II. The unemployment rate moved below 7% in August 1985 after six consecutive months at 7.2%.

  • 1986

    - Annual unemployment rate: 7.0%

    Gradual improvements to unemployment in 1986 were mostly due to jobs in the finance and real estate fields. October’s Tax Reform Act of 1986 cut the corporate tax rate and lowered income tax rates. The real estate bubble that would set off a recession in the early ‘90s found its roots in 1986, as mortgages and credit were more readily available.

  • 1987

    - Annual unemployment rate: 6.2%

    Employment improved across the board in the first half of 1987, including the rate for teenagers, which dipped to 17%. Tax reforms passed the year prior took effect, increasing taxes on unemployment benefits. Black Monday, one of the largest drops in stock market history pre-2020, occurred on Oct. 19, but the Fed avoided an immediate recession and job losses by flooding banks with money.

  • 1988

    - Annual unemployment rate: 5.5%

    The first half of 1988 saw job growth begin to level off as the country emerged relatively unscathed from Black Monday. In an effort to fight inflation, the Fed raised rates rapidly in 1988, setting the stage for a mild recession in the early 1990s.

    [Pictured: The floor of the Boston Stock Exchange, 1988.]

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